New festival to explore the art of preaching

New festival to explore the art of preaching

An upcoming event aims to help preachers develop their craft, and address a number of questions about what preaching is…and whether or not it is relevant.

Preachfest is an event inspired by The Festival of Homiletics, a week-long American conference about preaching, worship, and society that began in 1992.  

The event will provide attendees the chance to work on their own preaching, fine tune their ability, and hear from a range of teachers, leaders, and preachers, in person and online. 

UME’s Rev. Ben Gilmour is one of Preachfest’s organisers.

“I think preaching needs a particular reemphasis for it to be relevant and meaningful again,” he said.

“Looking at the NCLS data, one of the biggest reasons people will go to a church is the preaching.”

If people find the preaching at a church to be inspiring or educational, Rev. Gilmore said, they will choose to attend more often.

Preachfest’s official event website poses a number of questions about preaching, including “Is preaching dead?”

It’s a question that Rev. Gilmour acknowledges is “provocative” but thinks needs to be addressed.

“I’m challenging preachers to think about preaching and develop this craft,” he said.

“There are some people who do think it is dead.”

Rev. Gilmour said that, however, that he hopes, “People can go to church and be inspired again.”

The event’s intended audience includes ministers, lay preachers, and pastors.

“I think we have just as many lay preachers as we do ministers [in the Uniting Church], if not more.”

“This is a real opportunity for them to be inspired to develop their craft.”

Rev. Gilmour pointed out that the event was also an opportunity for ordained ministers, many of whom do not get to hear other preachers because their own Sunday schedules meant not getting to go to other churches.

The event will be a hybrid of in-person and online interaction. Attendees at the Sydney and Canberra locations will be able to decide whether they will watch the live streamed presentation from the other location, or the speaker at their own location.

“People can have the freedom to listen to one or another,” Rev. Gilmour said.

The event will also be streamed online, and virtual attendees can gain access to both the Canberra and Sydney speakers. There will also be a number of events at regional hubs, where preachers will watch the live stream and discuss the event. Live digital access to the first year’s festival will be free, with downloadable videos available after the event for a fee of $50.

Preachfest’s list of speakers includes Dr Mike Frost, Rev. Stu Cameron, Rev. Jason Kioa, Rev. Bec Lindsay, Rev. Charissa Suli, and many others.

The event’s international speakers include Dr Anna Carter Florence and Rev. Dr Sam Wells.

Dr Anna Carter Florence is the Peter Marshall Professor of Preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary. She is has been a keynote speaker at the Festival of Homiletics in the US, as well as a minister in the of the Presbyterian Church USA, a partner church of the Uniting Church in Australia.

The other international speaker, Rev. Dr Sam Wells, has been Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields since 2012. He has served as a parish priest for 20 years and spent seven years in North Carolina, where he was Dean of Duke University Chapel.

“He’s quite publicly known,…for his BBC program,” Rev. Gilmour said.

“I was really captivated by his work a number of years ago.”

“Australian audiences can get that wisdom.”

Rev. Gilmour said that she was chosen as someone who has been, “A teacher of preachers for a very long period of time.”

“She has a wealth of knowledge of how to teach preaching.”

Preachfest’s program is being put together by a group of organisers from St Marks National Theological College, VicTas Synod and the NSW and ACT Synod.

“All the speakers were approached by that group,” Rev. Gilmour said.

Rev. Gilmour told Insights that if the event is successful, he hopes it can happen again, “On an annual basis.”

“It’s not just a Uniting Church thing, this is an Australian thing that we’re sponsoring,” he said.

As such, the event aims to get a wider audience, and is open to “…Any preachers within the Christian church in Australia.”

Preachfest runs from Tuesday 1 June to Thursday 3 June, at St Stephen’s Uniting Church in Sydney and Wesley Uniting Church (AM sessions) and St Mark’s National Theological College (PM Sessions) in Canberra. For more information and registration, visit the official UME website.

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